Imbolc is the name of the pagan festival celebrated on what was the first day of the Old Spring. Sometime centuries thereafter, it was appropriated and in the emerging Christian times it was transferred to Candlemas, as the Catholics still may call it.
The word itself, Imbolc derives from the old Gaelic, i mbolg meaning "in the belly” referring to the lambing season and the pregnancy of ewes. Imbolc is immediately followed by Candlemas; therefore, sometimes the names are used interchangeably.
Imbolc is also call Saint Brighid’s Day, or Lá Fhéile Bríde or Là Fhèill Brìghde or Laa’l Breeshey, all festivals honoring Brigid. Since each of these represent the first promise of spring, fertility and life, they all are held at the place halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. This is a special time of the year; in addition to the four solar events of the Equinoxes and Solstices, most of the ancient cultures had an 'eight-spoke wheel of the year'.
It was not unique to only the Celts in seeing this time as a beginning of vernal stirrings. This holiday is a festival of the hearth and home; it stands as a celebration of the onset of the lengthening of days and the early promises of spring. That somehow trickled down to a groundhog seeing his shadow, and the groundhog might've been a badger, but I digress.
February marked a turn of season bringing the renewal of agricultural activities after winter. Again, this day is the center point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.
In Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of Spring. During this time, large gatherings and great feasts were held as is attested to in some of the earliest Old Irish literature, appearing from the 10th century onward. Imbolc was traditionally aligned with the start of the "lactation of ewes and the beginning of lambing season". Since the Northern Hemisphere is large and the range of Celtic culture broad, this could vary by as much as two weeks before or after the start of February.
These ideas of fire, of seeing and of burning all show that purification is an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months, as well as the burning away of the old – that’s a little yoga right there, or at least good housekeeping.
So, celebrate - enjoy, light a candle or make a fire. Consider what should be left behind, and with intention, place that in the fire. Propitiate, make offering and give it up!
Svaha! Enjoy your Imbolc! Give thanks and praise!